Monday, July 7, 2008

Performance as a Service

I've mentioned already that, for the second time in ten years, I'm starting a business. It's a lot easier nowadays than it was back in 1999. I know; it's supposed to be easier the second time you do something, but what I mean is different from that. It's just a lot easier to start a business now than it used to be.

Take email for example. I remember the trauma of having to buy and build a server, install Linux on it, find a location for it, install Sendmail, figure out how to manage that, eventually hire someone to manage it, buy email client software for everyone (in our case, Microsoft Outlook), eventually decide that we wanted to use Microsoft Exchange instead of Sendmail, and then keep on top of hardware and software maintenance for everything we had bought, all in an environment where prices and technology and requirements were continuously variable. It took nearly a whole full-time person just to figure out which options we should be thinking about.

Jeff Holt did most of this work for us in my first start-up almost ten years ago. Now, when you think of how many people in the world there are who can set up email, and compare that to how few people in the world there are who can do what Jeff can do with an Oracle database, you realize that the opportunity cost of having Jeff fiddle with email is ludicrously high. But in 1999, the only other option I knew about was to spend a bunch of cash to hire a separate person to do it instead of Jeff.

Today, you pay $50 to Google for a whole year's worth of Gmail service for each employee you have, and that's it. Ok, there's a half hour or so of configuration work you have to do to get your own domain name in your email addresses. But for way less than one month's rent, you've got email for your company for a whole year that works every time, all the time, from anywhere. All you need is a browser to access it, and even that is free these days.

I can tell you the same kind of story for web hosting, bug tracking, backup and recovery, HR and payroll, accounting, even for sales. The common thread here is that there are a lot of things you have to do as a business that have nothing whatsoever to do with what your business really does, which is that content that your people are really passionate about providing to the market. Today, it's economically efficient to let specialty firms do things for you that ten years ago, you wouldn't have considered letting someone else do.

...Which brings me to what we do. My company, Method R Corporation, does performance for a living. Specifically, Oracle software performance. We know how to make just about any Oracle-based software go faster, and we can do it quicker than you probably think. And we can teach people how to do it just like we do. We even sell the tools we use, which make it a lot easier to do what we do. It works. Read the testimonials at our Profiler page for some evidence of what I mean.

So here's a really important question for our company: Why would a telco or a manufacturer or a transportation company or a financial services company—or even a computer software manufacturer—want to learn as much about Oracle performance as the people in Method R have invested into learning? The answer is that a lot of companies just don't.

I love the field of software performance. I love it; it's my life's work. But most people don't. There are a lot of business owners and even software developers out there who just don't love thinking about software performance. I get that. Hey, I happen not to love thinking about software security. I know it's necessary, and I want it; I just don't want to have to think about it. I think most people regard software performance the same way: want it, need it even, don't want to think about it.

What if software performance were something, like Gmail, that just worked, and the only time you had to think about it was when you wrote a little check to make sure you could continue not having to think about it? I think there's a real business model there.

So here's what we're doing.

The people here at Method R have created a software package that we call our SLA Manager. "SLA" stands for "Service Level Agreement." It is software that tracks the response times (the durations that your end-users care about) of the business tasks that you mark as the most important things you want to watch. For example, if your application's "Book Order" function is something that's important to you, we can measure all 10,436 of your "Book Order" button clicks that happened yesterday. Our SLA Manager could tell you how long every single one of those clicks took. We can report information like, "Only 92.7% of those clicks were fulfilled in 3 seconds or less (not 99% like you wanted)." Of course, we can see trends in the data (that is, we can see your performance problems before your users can), and so on.

So, our value proposition is this: We'll install some data collection software at your site. We'll instrument some of the business tasks that you want to make sure never have performance problems. We'll show you exactly what we're doing so there's no need to fear whether we're messing anything up for you. For example, we'll show you how to turn all our stuff off with the flick of a switch in case you ever get into a debate with one of your software vendors over the impact our measurements might have upon your system.

We'll periodically transfer data from your site to ours, where we'll look at your performance data. We'll charge a small fee for that. The people looking at your data will be Cary Millsap, Jeff Holt, Karen Morton, ...people like that.
Remember: we're not looking at your actual transactions; all we're going to see is how many you do and how long they take.
We'll report regularly to you on what we see, and we'll make recommendations when we see opportunities for improvement. How much or how little help you want will be your decision. If you ever do want us to help you fix a performance problem with one of the tasks that we've helped you instrument, we'll be able to provide quick answers because we have the tools that work with the instrumentation we installed.

Another part of our service will be regularly scheduled knowledge transfer sessions, where the same people I've mentioned already will be available to you. Whether the events are public or private, remote or on-site, ...that will depend on the level of service you want to purchase. We'll tailor these sessions to your needs. We'll be in tune with those needs because of the data we'll be collecting.

If this business model sounds attractive to you, then I hope you'll drop us a note at info at method-r dot com. If it doesn't sound attractive, then we're eager to know how we could make the idea more appealing.


Unknown said...

This was a very interesting post. So was your post about multi-tasking. I hope you will continue to write about entrepreneurship and software management. Very few Oracle people have run their own companies(other than small consulting companies). The information you could provide would be invaluable.

Joel Garry said...

If you are talking about business models, you need to ask: is gmail, or any other service google provides, profitable? Or are they just drivers for how they make their real money? Project Spaghetti.

Most software-as-a-service, whatever it may be called over the years, is simply not profitable.

Dan Norris said...

Hi Cary--this new service offering sounds very interesting. I'm sure many of my friends/customers would probably be interested. I hope it works out well and I'll be looking for future reports on the uptake as you give it some time to sink in. Maybe you'll even get a few calls from some of my friends too :)

Unknown said...

Hi Cary,

i can see how you actually determine for a customer where the pain points are and you can validate user remarks about poor performance. But i don't see from your post how you are going to attack the problem of fixing the performance issue.

i would be most interested in hearing your thoughts on that. I wonder if you guys are going to touch the actual code behind the "order button" you described.


robert said...

I'm also in the performance tuning lovin' camp so if you are ever going to open an office over here in Germany, let me know. Might be an interesting job opportunity.

I wish you all the best for your new enterprise! Thank you for what you've done for the Oracle performance tuning community so far.

Kind regards


Sundar said...


This sounds very attractive and I can tell you that this kind of service offering is not available in India. India is a growing market and Indian industry has invested a lot of money on IT this year when the entire market is down. How can you offer this service to the Indian market?


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Unknown said...

One of the biggest issues I run into is that most of my customers have no SLAs outside of availability.

They call when things are "too slow". They know when things are unacceptably slow, but until they hit it, they can't say what that threshold is. Unfortunately it is difficult to head off these problems when you don't have thresholds for the alarms. We do have things set up for certain customers, like if we see x number of seconds of certain events in a particular database instance in a ten-minute interval, then the alarms go off. We know when that threshold is reached, the application is going to tank soon and the customers are going to notice something is amiss. That's about it, though, and it is from past (bad) experience.

I know I have complained about the lack of performance SLAs until folks are sick of hearing it. It appears that we have a wealth of folks that are reasonably good at specifying the functional requirements, but the non-functional requirements (performance being a big one) never seem to get fleshed out.

I think one of the things you might offer as part of the "Performance as a Service" might be assisting customers in developing those performance SLAs, especially since your team is very experienced in knowing what is possible.

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Bassman on overdrive said...

Hello. I found your blog by searching about "Performance As A Service", as this is something I consider offering, although in a field quite different from Oracle: CMS deployments. I have been doing traditional performance consulting in this field for a number of years now, hence the idea to product-enable the service to help scale the business. Seeing how Map-R evolved, I would like to a chance to discuss your experience with this business model, but could not find a way to contact you directly, hence this comment. On my domain, my email address is fgm (written this way to limit spambot discoverability).